Today, more than ever before, we are restless individuals living in a society whose technology provides instantaneous gratification while not allowing our minds to keep pace.
As a result, the pressure to improve ourselves amps up exponentially. It’s as if we’ve already failed and need to fix ourselves in order to feel worthwhile. Of course, all of this is a recipe for failure when it comes to New Year’s resolutions.
If a “resolution” feels like an “expectation”, that adds a layer of stress.
“My resolution was to go to the gym but I haven’t been in a week. I’m a failure.”
However, if resolutions can morph into “habits” or “practices”, maybe the pressure to succeed is lessoned.
“My resolution was to go to the gym and even though I didn’t go last week, I’m going to pick it back up this week.”
Resolutions vs. Expectations
Many resolutions have worthy goals. Living a healthier lifestyle (e.g., more exercise, better nutrition, quit smoking) is something many of us aspire to but it is in our execution that we fail. We set our goals too high (“I’m going to run two miles a day after work”) rather than accepting small victories first (walk one mile three times a week) and building on them, if desired.
From a mindfulness perspective, we need to explore the stress we feel with the need to change. How do we feel when we make a resolution and not meet it? Do we beat ourselves up? Do we quit? Why?
Note: most people give up New Year’s resolutions within two weeks of starting them. That’s a lot of us feeling pretty lousy about ourselves.
Why do we routinely berate ourselves when we don’t live up to our own expectations? Even when I mess up the simplest task, it’s not uncommon for the voice in my head to scream, “Jeez – I’m SUCH an idiot!!”.
Mindfully examining our emotions can help us prepare for those inevitable instances when we don’t meet them.
I resolve to eat more Brussels sprouts. Really?
Too often, we make resolutions that involve activities that we don’t like, such as exercising or eating healthier food. It’s no wonder that we give up so easily. Combined with setting unrealistic goals,
Instead, let’s take a different approach to New Year’s resolutions. Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t call them “resolutions”. Think of them as goals that don’t have negative consequences associated with them.
- Make them quarterly or weekly instead of annually. Our habit is to fail after a couple of weeks and then not address the goal again until 50 weeks later.
- Make the goals achievable and set benchmarks along the way. Instead of “I’m going to go to the gym”, try “I’m going to go to the gym at least once a week for the next month” and then, if successful, either maintain or try to increase your target. If you fail to meet your specific target, ratchet it down so you can be successful. Just don’t give up completely.
- Figure out the priority of your goals. If they are the first things to come off when other things are added to your plate, perhaps those goals weren’t that important in the first place. Can you revise them so they’ll take the priority you want?
- Think about how the short-term goals will affect your long-term vision for your life. Do they move you closer to what you’re striving for or are they merely about more immediate gratification? For example, if losing weight will allow you to more easily travel, can benefit you in your job and provide you and your partner with additional options for vacations, that makes a lot of sense, right? Certainly more than because “that’s the same resolution I had last year that I failed at so I have to try again”.
- Low-hanging fruit is waaay underrated! Get some small victories under your belt so you can feel good about yourself and keep yourself motivated. Having a resolution of losing 30 pounds may sound good on paper until you get through the first week and you’ve actually gained three! Quittin’ time!!
- Before you start, know you’re going to fail. Plan for it. Think about what you’re going to do when the first setback occurs. Maybe downsizing the goal helps minimize the failure risk. When a prescribed medical treatment fails to address an illness, the doctor doesn’t give up. She tries something else, right? So have an alternative plan ready to go in case you need it.
- Patience, patience, patience. By noticing, in the moment, that you’re starting to lose patience with your progress (or lack thereof), you can take a time out, recognize that you knew ahead of time that it was going to happen and mindfully respond by trying another alternative instead of facepalming.